Ontroerend Goed: World Without Us

Imagine a time capsule, to be buried deep in the ground; or sent out into deep space, perhaps. What would you put in it? A snatch of Mozart? A dash of the Blues? Japanese Koto? Children’s drawings? Photos of works of art or architecture? Scientific formulae? Poetry? A letter from Albert Einstein? A letter from Jimmy Carter? Whatever you chose, you’d do so with the hope that someone would find it; that someone would thus remember you – or at least, remember us. Us. One of us. Someone like us. Someone on our planet in some future time. Someone on another planet, light years away. Whoever, wherever – you imagine, you hope, that there will be someone to remember, to acknowledge, perhaps even to understand. This is a record. Look, here are the instructions. How to play it. Scratch, scratch, scratch – that sound of a vinyl disc stuck on the last groove. Oh how quickly technology ages and dies…

In their latest show for the Edinburgh Fringe, World Without Us, Ontroerend Goed imagine another scenario. A world. Without us. The buried capsule is never dug up and discovered – it eventually, thousands of years later, is finally penetrated by the rain. The ink on the writing runs, the colours of the drawings merge, the paper becomes grey pulp.

We are taken to this point, this – I was going to say ‘worrying’ but is it? – point in time, a timeless time, with meticulous care. The storyteller, live on stage, and through mediated voiceover, delivers words that conjure powerful and poetic images with a beautiful attention to detail. We are invited to imagine this theatre space we are now in without us. We have all been spirited away (somehow, we don’t learn how, it’s not important). The lights go out, leaving just the emergency lighting. The laptop at the back runs out of power. A mobile phone in a handbag gives out its last teeny alarm bleep. It is colder in here without the people – each one of us gives out the same amount of heat as a light bulb, imagine that! We are invited to imagine a rat who finds a bag of crisps that provides a welcome feast. To imagine the spiders making webs in the roof space and the tiny microscopic creatures on the floor. Meanwhile, elsewhere in this people-less world, planes are flying their longest flights yet – almost 24 hours – before crashing into the deep oceans. Their black boxes emit a signal for 30 days, but after that – silence. Time, gentlemen please.

Time passes. Tick tock go the remaining clocks, until they wind down or their batteries run out. Not that this means anything without the timekeepers. Seconds, minutes, hours – they are our inventions. But the cycles of day and night, of sun and moon – they continue. Although inside the theatre, once even the longlife battery of the emergency light has given up,  it is always night – at least, always night until the day / year / century comes when the roof collapses, the sunshine floods in startling the insects, and the encroaching forest reclaims the remains of the raked seats.

This world without us: is this a ‘good’ thing, or a ‘bad’ thing? The philosophical reflection at the heart of this piece suggests that in fact, without us, it is neither. No timekeepers, and no judges. The world without us is benign. Buildings or no buildings? Trees or no trees? It doesn’t matter. Plastic beads still waiting to decompose thousands of years later. Wills written but never read. Airplane windows that fishes swim through. Bears. Wolves. Cockroaches. Fires. Rivers. Snow. Rain. Scorched earth. Nothing but a compressed ball of particles. It isn’t good. It isn’t bad. It just is. Pandas are long extinct, but there is no-one to care about the pandas, so it is not a bad thing, it is just – a thing. It is not down to us to ‘save the world’. The world without us is not ours to save. It’ll be whatever it is, without us.

A World Without Us is a brilliant conception – but more, it is realised in a beautiful form. Everything about this piece is fine-tuned, perfectly crafted. The scenography looks simple – which of course means it is cleverly and carefully constructed. A black stage with a monolith standing in the centre. Projected words and images, used sparsely at the beginning and end of the show. Lighting that frames or highlights the face or the hands of the sole performer (the brilliant Valentijn Dhaenens of SGaGeN on the day that I see the show – two actors are alternating for the Edinburgh Fringe run). The words shine and sparkle like fragments of broken glass, cutting through the gloom.

Words. Worlds. A world of words. Words are us. A world without us is, eventually, a world without words. And yet somewhere, out there, amongst the stars, the words still sing out…


Featured photo by Mirjam-Devriendt.

Ontroerend Goed: World Without Us is presented as part of the Big in Belgium season at Summerhall, 5-29 August, 11.30.

For this and all Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 shows , see













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Dorothy Max Prior

About Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer/director working in theatre, dance, installation and outdoor arts. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She also writes essays and stories, some of which are published and some of which languish in bottom drawers – and she teaches drama, dance and creative non-fiction writing.